Making of the brand - 10 things I have learned from starting my lingerie label
Posted on 14November2017
As I'm now preparing the official launch of my vision for Mariesa Mae Lingerie, I thought I would share some of the things that I have learned along the way to give you some insight into what it takes to start a label.
2 years ago I moved back from Australia to the UK and it has taken those 2 years to fully realise the new direction of the label. All of the development has been entirely self funded which has meant that my progress has been slow as I also work full time to enable me to build my brand.
Starting a label and running your own business is very hard!Starting a new business venture is an exciting a rewarding process. When I started out I was completely clueless of what it would involve. Like a typical creative I focused on all of the 'fun' stuff - designing the garments and creating beautiful campaign shoots. I barely knew the difference between PR and marketing and certainly was not equiped for the challenges of running and building a business.
I know that this sounds obvious, but even though I thought I knew it would be hard, I had no idea just how difficult it would be! Everything I do I have to do from scratch! It takes a huge personal investment. All of your time, money and energy will be spent on building your business.
Sometimes I actually think it would be nice to have a 'normal job' and know that I am going to get paid at the end of each month! What a complete luxury that would be! But I know that deep down I enjoy the process of making and creating things and my label allows me to express this.
Although it is really tough, you will learn so much about yourself. It's not for everyone and I think most people couldn't live with the insecurity, hardship and stress that comes alongside it. But challenging ourselves is what makes life meaningful, and the struggle forces us to grow.
Starting a business is expensive!
My advice to anyone starting out is to make a budget of how much outlay you think you will need and triple it! No matter how thorough you think you have been with your costings there are always expenses that you didn't account for. For example, the sampling process ended up being much more expensive and took a lot longer than I accounted for. As I am getting some of my pieces made in Bali, there was a drawn out process of perfecting the samples. It took numerous attempts to nail the fit. This meant that the patterns had to be reworked and sent back to Bali for another set of samples to be made. Every time we went through this process I was hit with import taxes and duties on both sides that I hadn't accounted for, and despite all of my efforts of following the customs and duties guidelines to ensure that my garments were processed correctly, I still got hit with charges.
When you're starting out there are so many things that you just don't know and until you encounter them, you don't know how to avoid them. Your naivity will cost you!
However, funding all of the development myself has meant that I have had to be extra resourceful. Although there are unavoidable costs when starting out, you can also save a lot of money by looking for other creatives who you can collaborate with where you can both mutually benefit from working together. I have met many amazing photographers, models, graphic designers, videographers who have all been happy to work on a project on a collaboration basis and this has definitely helped me to build my business.
Images from when I was doing burlesque wearing the first lingerie sets that I made.
Perfecting the product is key!
This has been the most difficult aspect of this venture for me. As I'm not a trained designer I've had to learn everything first hand from my mistakes. Being untrained has meant that I have had to invest heavily and rely on the skills of other 'professionals.'
I started out sampling my designs with the factory in Bali which is the most popular route for Australian designers. I wish I could say that it was all straight forward and plain sailing from there. It wasn't!! I quickly discovered that although Bali was great for making lycra dresses and t-shirts, making lingerie was a whole different ball game!
Back to the drawing board! I Tracked down 'the best' lingerie specialist pattern maker in Sydney! In truth she was 'the only' lingerie specialist pattern maker in Sydney, which by default, made her the best! The first patterns I had made were nothing like what I envisioned! The bra's were completely 2 dimensional and a terrible fit! It took months of sampling for me to get the patterns to look like anything I had in mind. Even then, I knew that the garments still lacked the finesse and quality off finish that I knew was required to make me competitive on a larger scale.
Since moving back to the UK, I now work with an amazing pattern maker. I also work with a small CMT unit in Nottingham as well as a team in Bali who make the 'Lola 'n' Leather' garments to an excellent quality. I make the Godiva latex sets myself.
The second shoot of the first collection that I made.
Your vision is everything!
While its important to have the idea in your mind of the bigger picture you are working towards, it's vital to break it down and work out the thousands of tiny steps it will take to get you there. Your vision will keep you going when things get tough and in check when you are falling off track. When the vision of what you're working towards is the bigger picture, you can easily get overwhelmed with what it will take to get you there, and inevitably you will give up.
It took me having to take time out to reset my goals and intentions to get back on track. This ended up in me taking 2 years out from working on my label. To get me back on track I had to truly crystallise my vision of what I wanted to achieve, working out the motivating factors that contributed to the why! This involved more than just imagining a glossy picture of the brand I wanted to create. It involved inward introspection, thinking about the life I wanted to lead, my values and beliefs of what I stood for and the person that I wanted to become.
Surround yourself with like minded people
It's fair to say that most people will not get what it is that you are doing and understand what it is that you are striving to achieve. Your family will no doubt think that you are crazy and urge you to get a 'real job' and some of your friends just won't understand the mental and emotional struggle that is involved in starting out on your own.
I really struggled with having the right support around me when I first started my label back in Sydney and had some toxic influences around me who on the surface appeared supportive, but deep down didn't have my best interests at heart. I've had to learn to spot these types of personalities and filter them out of my life. This is a great lesson for us all to learn, but also an extremely painful one.
Now I am back in the UK I am fortunate that I have my family around me who are supportive (for the main part,) and some very close friends who also have their own business's who are always inspiring me and cheering me on. This has definitely helped me pull through when things have been tough and has been invaluable to my mental wellbeing.
Plan Plan PLAN...
By planning I'm by no means suggesting that you sit and do a long business plan of whats going to happen over the next 3 years. I can only speak for myself but I can't say that having a business plan in a traditional sense really helped me that much.
Now I think it's worth pointing out that I am by no means a planner by nature! There was a time when everything I did was last minute and spontaneous! I can tell you that while this is fun for the most part, its also an extremely stressful way to live life. Always thinking on your feet and off the cuff is exhausting!!! Planning is a skill that I have taught myself.
I now see planning as a creative process. It's like a wish list of all the things that I would like to see happen in the future that I can tick off once I've achieved them. When I view planning this way, implementing structure and doing all of the 'boring stuff' that I don't enjoy seems like less of a chore.
Edit Edit EDIT...
Perhaps this doesn't apply to everyone but it has been an important lesson for me. I can easily get carried away with idea's and rarely consider what is practical or achievable (a by product of having ADHD!) Ever since I can remember I have wanted to be everywhere and do everything. My parents would refer to me as constantly 'galavanting' off somewhere! At college I would always have at least 5 projects on the go at any time, and my teachers would refer to me as 'spinning plates', always on the brink off them all crashing down.
The downside of this side of my personality is that I take on to much and I then suffer from burnout and exhaustion. I have had to learn that I cannot make and do everything that pops into my head. When you start applying your creativity into the mould of a business, you have to edit your ideas and focus your energies.
Having limited resources has been the main reason for my need to edit, but I've found it's a good practise for everything in my life. Focusing on giving my attention to one thing at a time, instead of spreading myself thinly across many has made my life more productive and less stressful.
The hero image of my first campaign shoot. Out of the four stories in this image only the classic range got put into production as I struggled with achieving the quality of fit with the other ranges.
The importance of self care
When I first started to develop the label back in Sydney I was performing in a Burlesque duo. I was putting all of my energies into putting on shows and creating a lingerie label. This really took it's toll on me physically as both are all consuming art-forms that demand your full attention and care. When I was doing both, the Burlesque would always end up taking priority as I had to perform in a show. If I didn't rehearse and practise, I'd look unprofessional.
The pressure of getting my first collection made and into stores whilst performing weekly gigs, creating new routines, rehearsing for shows, running pop up stores... it really was a stressful period of my life!!! And all of this while existing on a shoestring budget (burlesque doesn't pay after all!) I truly lived the Bohemian life... which meant that I didn't eat or sleep well and I started to suffer from anxiety as I was constantly fraught and stressed. I was also in an extremely toxic on/off relationship which was hugely damaging to my emotional health and wellbeing.
The process of me deciding to move back to the UK took about 2 years and this was when I put everything with my business development on hold. This was the most difficult part of my life to date but also the most transformative. I realised how little care, love and value I had for myself. Everything I went through in this period has contributed to why I feel so strongly about this blog and my #sexyontheinside initiative.
Being in the right place emotionally is important. I wasn't able to comprehend things when I was stressed. I couldn't slow things down and process and made bad decisions as a result. With some counselling, yoga, meditation and alternative therapies I've learned how to be present and centred, which in turn helps me to be more focused.
I now meditate to help me manage my stress and anxiety and I make time to spend with my loved ones. This all helps me to maintain balance and stability on what is a pretty hectic ride!
You never stop learning
I have had to learn everything about my business on the job, and whilst there are some things I cannot do, I have attempted to learn and understand every part of my business up to date. From making and altering patterns, sewing samples, learning about photography, blogging, marketing, PR, accounts, business planning, building a website, branding... the list goes on and on. I didn't know anything about any of these things when I started out. I still don't know everything about all of these things, but I have a good understanding of every component of my business.
Off course as I grow, I won't continue to do everything myself as this wouldn't make good business sense. But by doing the groundwork and setting everything up myself, I now have firm control of every aspect of my business.
I used to see myself as purely a creative but now I embrace everything about my business and see myself as an entrepreneur as well as a designer.
Patience is a virtue!
There is no such thing as an overnight success... Ok, so maybe that isn't completely true (reality tv 'stars' spring to mind!) However, behind almost every success story is someone who has worked their ass off to get to where they wanted to be.
I have been forced to learn the practise of PATIENCE!!! Making lingerie takes love and care and time. The beauty of the garment is all in the details and these things cannot be rushed. Having learnt from my past mistakes of rushing and pushing to get things made, and not being happy with the outcome, I had to learn to trust in the process and that it would all come together eventually, however long it takes!
It takes time to master your craft, to hone in on what it is exactly you are good at, to polish and mould and build and shine!
behind the scenes pics of the current campaign shoot that I did on my last day in Sydney. It has taken at a friends amazing house and I was so lucky to be able to do a shoot like and work with such an incredible team on my last ever day in Australia.
Nothing is ever perfect and you never feel ready
Going back to the vision, I've never been quite able to achieve the glossy picture of the big vision in my head. But I'm ok with that.
What I've realised first hand is, there isn't just one set way of doing things. Maybe 5 years ago, the entry into fashion was more structured, but these day's there are so many different ways of starting your own label.
The point is, if I was always waiting for everything to be perfect and to feel ready, I would never have got started.
The current campaign shoot is a great example of this. I was frustrated because I didn't have a complete new collection ready. I just had samples and pieces from my current range which I didn't really want to shoot. But I decided to push ahead and shoot anyway which pushed me to start making the Godiva Latex set. I'd had the idea for the Godiva Latex in my head for a long time and I knew that this was the direction that I wanted to take my label in moving forward. I ended up making the Godiva Latex set on the day of the shoot and physically glued it on the model to get the pictures. I didn't have everything ready, the lingerie set wasn't made perfectly, but it was enough to set me on way.
So now I don't hold out for everything to be perfect. People like to follow and watch your progress as it becomes a part of your story and the make-up of the brand. Things don't have to be perfect for people to see where you are coming from. So nowadays I'm more open to sharing my imperfections and inviting people in on this story.
BTS photos of me wearing knickers, making the knickers for the Godiva Latex set for the Campaign shoot!
The back view of the Godiva Latex set that I made at the shoot and glued onto the model!
Remember to enjoy the process!
You may not have noticed that this is actually the 11th thing that I am listing! It applies to every aspect of life, not just when building a business. Remember to enjoy the process. If you're not enjoying it, then stop! No-ones going to think any less of you. Don't be too hard on yourself! You are amazing and you are exactly where you need to be! So don't sweat it! Allow it to unfold before you.
Nowadays, I'm not so hard on myself. Things take time and care and love to make them flourish. Now I have acknowledged this fact, I can enjoy the process so much more.
So take your time, smell the roses, listen to your body, trust your instincts and get on board for the ride!
You won't look back... I promise.